Crested Myna atop water buffalo, Hengsha, 6 Nov. 2014.

Hengsha Island

Appended to the eastern end of Hengsha Island, a giant land-reclamation project is the quietest, most remote place in Shanghai, the place with the freshest air, and the place with some of the best birding in the municipality. Although certain to be developed someday, the project has been acting like a nature reserve, important to endangered species such as Black-faced Spoonbill.

I, Craig Brelsford, last birded Hengsha in 2017 and was led off by guards. I have noted no new eBird lists from Hengsha since my final list. Foreigners are no longer attempting to bird this rich birding spot.

Though lacking trees, the “New Hengsha” that I birded dozens of times was offering four other critical forms of habitat.

grassy area
Steppe-like habitat in the reclaimed area on Hengsha Island. (Craig Brelsford)

— Drier, savanna-type grassy areas, good for Hen Harrier, Oriental Plover, Northern Lapwing, Merlin, Chinese Grey Shrike, Eurasian Skylark, Buff-bellied Pipit, and Richard’s Pipit

— Reed beds, where were found impressive numbers of Eurasian Bittern, Chinese Penduline Tit, Reed Parrotbill, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and Oriental Reed Warbler

— Ponds, in which Black-faced Spoonbill (often accompanied by Eurasian Spoonbill) waded, ducks such as Falcated Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, and more rarely Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Garganey, and Baikal Teal swam, and near which Kentish Plover bred and Pacific Golden Plover passed on migration

Reeds and ponds
Reeds and ponds, Hengsha Island. (Craig Brelsford)

— Mudflats, where Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Great Knot have been found, and on which a host of other, more common species appeared, among them Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Dunlin

Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus is common in winter on Hengsha.
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus is common in winter on Hengsha. (Craig Brelsford)

Note however that New Hengsha extends at least 25 km east from the entrance. As one drives east, the land becomes progressively new and (as of 2017) barren. Along the roads, look to the inner base of the dike for buntings, among them Yellow-throated Bunting and Rustic Bunting. In the occasional ponds you will find Common Snipe, Pin-tailed Snipe, and sometimes unusual birds such as Green Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.

At such a vast coastal area, rare sightings are bound to occur. On 18 April 2015 Elaine and I had a male Black Redstart. We found it fly-catching on the sea wall on the northeast side of the reclaimed area.

Black Redstart
Black Redstart ranges from Western Europe to central China and is a rare visitor to the Chinese coast. (Craig Brelsford)

If the reclaimed land had microforests such as at Nanhui, then it would have been the place to go birding in the city-province of Shanghai. But because it was nearly treeless, it was a little short on woodland birds. Some of the birder’s thirst for forest habitat can be quenched by a visit to the wooded farming areas just outside the reclaimed area.

To get to Hengsha, in Pudong get on the G40 (Hushan Expressway [陕高速]). Take the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel 9 km to Changxing Island (Chángxīng Dǎo [长兴岛]). Drive to the port, marked on the map, on the eastern end of Changxing. From Changxing, it is a 10-minute ferry ride to Hengsha.

Chinese Grey Shrike, Hengsha, November 2014.
Chinese Grey Shrike, Hengsha, November 2014. (Craig Brelsford)

The entrance to the reclaimed area is on the southeastern tip of the original island. As of 2017, guards were manning the station after 08:00 and would deny you entry. Birders arriving before 08:00 were able to drive right in, and once in were usually not asked to leave. In August 2017, however, guards tracked me down deep in the reclaimed area. I was told to leave, and sensing the gig was up at Hengsha, I never attempted to return.

Elaine Du
Elaine Du viewing ca. 9000 ducks and coots at 31.331804, 121.883224. (Craig Brelsford)

To the southeast of the reclaimed area is the little-visited Jiuduansha Wetland Nature Reserve, a collection of islands, shoals, and surrounding water at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

View here the eBird hotspot page for Hengsha.

Featured photo: Crested Myna atop water buffalo, Hengsha Island. (Craig Brelsford)

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